Standing for Animals

Anika Mohammed

An issue that plagues animal rights advocates is something we, as people, take for granted: standing to sue. In order to find standing, generally three factors must be found: 1) injury-in-fact, 2) causation, and 3) redressability. Unfortunately for animals, courts do not recognize the injury of an animal alone to give that animal standing, even though their rights have been violated.

Standing to sue is an issue recognized around the world. The Filipino case Minors Oposa was considered a ground-breaking case, and its affect felt around the world. In Minors Oposa the high court of the Philippines expressed their willingness to recognize the standing of not just minors, but future generations not yet born. This was done in an attempt to protect future generations’ right to a balanced and healthful ecology. Though this may seem like a wild idea, suing on behalf of future generations, it makes sense. When harm is being done, the affected parties should have their interests protected, even if someone else has to bring the action. Continue reading

Existence Value Introduced as an Argument for Standing in ESA Lawsuit

David Cassuto

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has construed the Endangered Species Act to exclude captive populations of  the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.  This means that these endangered orcas  are deprived of the protections of the statute and can be exploited for profit by commercial operations.  A number of individuals and animal advocacy organizations including the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), on whose board I sit, brought suit in the Western District of Washington to challenge this interpretation.

To wit:

SHELBY PROIE; KAREN MUNRO;                              Case #3:11-05955-BHS
PATRICIA SYKES; ANIMAL LEGAL
DEFENSE FUND, a non-profit
corporation; and PEOPLE FOR THE
ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS,
INC., a non-profit corporation,
Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES
SERVICE, ERIC C. SCHWAAB, in his
official capacity as Assistant Administrator
for Fisheries of the National Marine
Fisheries Service; and REBECCA M.
BLANK, in her official capacity as the
Acting Secretary of the United States
Department of Commerce,
Defendants.
____ _______________

Last week, ALDF amended its complaint to include a standing claim based on “existence value.”  It declared:

16. ALDF also brings this case on behalf of its members who, on information and belief, place significant and particularized value on the continued existence of Southern Resident killer whales, and whose interests in ensuring that the species continues to exist are injured by
NMFS’s decision to exclude the captive members of the population from the list of endangered species because protecting captive members of a listed species is necessary to ensure that it will not become extinct in the future and can eventually be recovered.

and   Continue reading

Christopher Stone on Nonhuman Legal Standing

David Cassuto

Christopher Stone, author of the seminal 1972 law review article, Should Trees Have Standing,  takes on the issue of standing for nonhuman animals.  Stone writes with characteristic eloquence about something that — while it may sound legally arcane — could well be the single most important issue in animal law today.

Why It’s Not About the Elephants

David Cassuto

Here now, a few words about the Ringling Brothers case.  The suit focused on the treatment of Asian elephants – an endangered species – by the circus.  Much credible evidence suggests that the elephants were mistreated, both by intent (using bullhooks to “train” them) and by the rigors of the circus life, a life which confined them for much of their lives, prevented them from socializing and from moving freely about and generally forced them to live counter to their instincts and nature.  These allegations and others seemed to place the circus in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), whose “Take” provision (Section 9) prohibits the “take” of any endangered species. 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a)(1)(B).

The term “take,” as used in the ESA, includes actions that “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” 16 U.S.C. § 1532(19). The Fish and Wildlife Service defines “harm” to include any act that “actually kills or injures wildlife,” including actions that “significantly impair[ ] essential behavioral patterns.” 50 C.F.R. § 17.3. “Harass” under the ESA means: an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.  In sum, the Supreme Court has made clear that the ESA defines “take”  “in the broadest possible manner  to include every conceivable way in which a person can ‘take’ or attempt to ‘take’ any fish or wildlife.’ “ Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Cmtys. for a Greater Or.,515 U.S. 687, 704 (1995).

On the face of it, the allegations regarding the treatment of the elephants land squarely within the scope of behavior prohibited by the ESA.  This lawsuit marked the first time the ESA had been invoked to cover the treatment of performing elephants.  I do not here have time to summarize the merits and facts of the case; you can read more about it here and here and elsewhere.  I must focus on the procedural posture of the case since it ultimately proved dispositive.   Continue reading

The Standing Conundrum

Gillian Lyons


One of today’s hottest debates in the field of animal law is the status of animals as property. (For more on one aspect of this property debate- take a look at Gary Francione’s Animals as Property.)  To my mind, one of the most important aspects of this debate is how this current property status can hinder individuals from taking legal action when they see private citizens abusing or neglecting their pets.

Volunteering for an animal law attorney this semester, I’ve come to realize just how complicated this issue is. If you see animal abuse or neglect- can you achieve a legal remedy? The answer is yes- sometimes. Reading Cass Sunstein’s article Can Animals Sue? (in the book Animal Rights edited by Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum) he acknowledges that there are three circumstances where a human can protect animals in the federal court system: when the human seeks information about animal welfare, when the government failure to protect animals inflicts a competitive injury on the human plaintiff and when a human visits or works with an animal that is threatened with illness death or harm. My question is, if you don’t fit neatly into these three categories and you witness animal abuse, can you take legal action? As things currently stand, you can’t- unless the animal is considered your property or you can convince your local government to pursue criminal action (which quite sadly, would be quite difficult in most of the country.) This is because, as things stand, you would be hard pressed to convince a court that you have the injury-in-fact needed for constitutional standing.

Continue reading